Sunday, August 21, 2016

First Thoughts on No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky is apparently another good example of how terrible massive hype can be for your product. It's true that few things live up to hype that big (personally I don't think Star Wars VII did either) but I think it was difficult for NMS not to be as hyped as it was. How can you avoid to get peoples mind boggling when you tell them that you've got 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets to play around with in a game that is bigger than the actual universe? Can you really be at fault then when people don't at the same time realize that procedurally generated sort of is the opposite of carefully crafted which in turn might mean not-so-well-thought-out? Spore will forever be the prime example of what happens when someone tries to cram everything into a game without making sure that anything of it is actually fun. We already know minimalistic can be fun - just look at Tetris. Maximalistic seems to be harder to grasp.

Fortunately personally, I wasn't too hyped about NMS. Excited and interested for sure, but I had a feeling already pretty early on that if a truckload of procedurally generated content was all they were going to boast about, it wasn't going to hold up for very long (this doesn't mean I am cleverer than everyone else, just more pessimistic). But like I said, I was interested nonetheless. Partially for the technical feat of it and partially because it still was a game about exploring space. Since Escape Velocity is one of my all-time favorite games and this sounded like a much, much larger 3d version of it, NMS was already early on on my radar to keep track off (I have since also checked out the actual spiritual successor to Escape Velocity, Endless Sky, but that is matters for another post, possibly).

Before I decided to buy it I actually watched a couple of reviews of it. I often do this if I am about to spend more-than-usual amounts of money on a game I am not entirely sure about yet (Pokemon games always have a free pass). The reviewers pretty much confirmed what I thought would be the problem with the game and since my interest to experience it myself was still there I decided to buy it, eventhough reception was somewhat mild. About a week ago I bought it, second hand actually, and have since spent a couple of hours with it. And so far it is pretty much what I expected from it.

A lot of other reviewers have already summed it up pretty well - It's difficult to put your finger on NMS. Is it fun or not? The problem isn't the hype as such - I think it deserves to be hyped for the technical feat that it is. Why everyone seemed to think this would automatically also make NMS awesomely fun to play is beyond me. I think the problem with NMS boils down to the fact that you can be so easily overwhelmed by it. It is huger than huge and no person will ever even come close to discovering all the planets there is. Everyone ever playing probably won't come close to it. One might wonder why you should even bother making a game that big, or maybe why you as a player should even bother going around doing discoveries at all? In almost every other game any area the player can go to has been designed to further the experience of the game - you can't think of NMS that way.

If we get down to the facts of it, gameplay wise I think it has received more scorn than it deserves (mind you I have only tried the ps4 version, I've heard the PC version had some troubles of its own). I heard a lot of complaints about the inventory management and the UI in general, personally I don't think it's that big of a problem. Yes you are required to be pretty spartan in your collecting, in a game that is all about gathering. It seems like an odd design choice and I can agree it would've been nice to at least be able to store items somewhere else than in your very meager exosuit and spaceship storage (although upgradeable). Everything you want and need to craft requires different components and you only really have space to focus on one of them at the time, especially counting in the fact that you need to run around with materials to power up your suit and mining tool as well.

I don't find this a huge problem however, it just means you need to do some careful planning. Make sure you know what you need and go out to collect only those things. So what if you come across a very rare item/material along the way, or something you know you need for some other item? Leave it, mentally map it or just be ok with the fact that you can't pick up everything you see. NMS is a lot about "be ok with it". And not in a "the game is badly designed so deal with it or leave" kind of way but "this is not the game you were looking for, but there is actually an entertaining game here so take it for what it is or leave" kind of way.

One reviewer was annoyed by the fact that every planet seemed littered with artifacts, items and structures left around by other alien creatures. It made it feel like every planet had already been discovered, so what was the point of even going there? This is a simple case where a choice of fun game design trumped over realistic game design (like how even the most realistic of survival games never require you to take a dump). Personally I can't see any fun whatsoever in landing on a planet that is literally just material to collect. Part of what makes a planet interesting is to see if there is intelligent life and if they left something behind. My critique would rather be that it's all very samey, and I will get back to this. So I agree that it gets repetitive, but I disagre that there shouldn't be anything. That would in the end become even more repetitive.

Graphically I also think it has its ups and downs. On the one hand the orange glow of space really bothers me. Is it to make the planets easier to see? Is it just in my part of space? Am I in some sort of orange nebula? I wanted the darkness of space and the orange color just makes it look like I am flying around in carrot soup. I hate it, in fact.

Space apparently also available in pee yellow

On the other hand I've walked for minutes just taking in the scenery. On the first planet I landed on, a comparatively nice planet it turns out, I found a cave system close to my space ship where I just wandered around looking at things, pretending I was actually there. It was very serene, beautiful and definitely fun. Right then and there I did feel like a true explorer, transcending even the feeling I had when first running around in Skyrim, following map markers and being curious about what was around each corner. Here I had an entire planet for myself (basically), massive cave systems, gorges, cliffs, trees, beautiful flowers and weird looking creatures to explore. At that moment I even felt like I didn't need to leave that planet at all. That was a rather important feeling, it turns out.

And it is a truly awesome feeling when you look up at the sky, see a planet or moon far away in the distance, hop into your spaceship, lift off and fly there. Imagine if you could just decide from one moment to the next that you wanted to go to the Moon (and the Moon wasn't just covered in sand, but also other stuff), and then go there. As you slowly rise up from the planet you're leaving, look down and see it all spread out under you - it slowly dawns on your that you just left a planet, it's actually the size of a planet! And you've been there, on a tiny part of it and left a tiny mark on it. There is sooo much more of that planet to explore, so why are you already moving on?

This is a fundamental question in NMS that you should think very carefully about. Unless your first planet turns out to be a pain in the ass, survival-wise, consider spending a lot more time there than the game prompts you to. Getting your spaceship fly-worthy takes less than an hour, unless you wander off like me. But is the grass really greener on the other side? I haven't played NMS long enough myself to verify this, but I have feeling that the more planets you visit, the less fun they become. The more will the procedurally generated fact of the world grate on you and the more anonymous they will become. Oh look another dog-dinosaur looking animal. Another cave system, another set of green flowers. Another block that gives me iron, just like the other block on that other planet that gave me iron. It's comes down to whether you prefer a life of one-night-stands or a few lovers that mattered. Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to move on and take some time to savour where you are.

NMS in a close update?

NMS is a very lonely game. You'll meet other aliens, which don't feel real at all and that you don't care anything about so it can be very daunting that you are basically all alone in that massive game. I think the game would've truly profited from being a multiplayer game, because eventhough Hello Games has said gamers can interact with eachother, this doesn't seem to be true. If it should be something like Eve Online or maybe like the multiplayer in Dark Souls, I don't know. But I would've loved some sort of hub where I could get some interaction from people, yet retain the possibility to fly off to a lonely part of space whenever I felt like it. NMS needs a civilized part, a part of the Universe where there are cities (or at least a city) and not just rocks and grass. This, I think, could make the game truly amazing.

I haven't visited overly many planets myself so far, maybe five. And eventhough they visually look fairly different they play out almost identically. Some might be more difficult to play on because of environmental issues, but there are almost the exact same things to do. The soup might be mixed differently but it has the same ingredients. Because of this you are just as likely to find something exciting around the corner as on a planet 100 lightyears away, for better or worse. If you jump from planet to planet hoping the game will offer more, that is when you will be sorely disappointed. If you go on a treck to find the fun the first couple of planets couldn't fulfill, you'll have a bad time. The game offers you basically everything it has straight from the get-go and I don't think that has to be a bad thing, it's just unconventional and takes some getting used to. Like mentioned, it might make you wonder why even bother with 18 quintillion planets in that case, but they're just there. They don't make the game better or worse, there's just more of it.


  1. Elite: Dangerous has nowhere near as many planets, nor are any of them procedurally generated. That being said, I will never actually get around to exploring all of the works they put within the galaxy. 1,000/100,000,000 worlds versus 1,000 out of Infinity worlds, at magnitudes like that I don't see a significant difference. A game's allure is in what you can do, not what you can't do, and the fact that after exploring 10,000 planets, there's virtually no difference in what's left between the two is kinda telling.

    This is not to say that Elite's planets are up to the same level as NMS'. All the ones I've visited so far have been bare rocks, with mining colonies maybe. Then again, Terra-like planets are considered rarities and cherished, and I kinda like that message.

    Elite also offers a lot of interaction with other pilots, though usually they are AI, not actual humans. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the attempt to make the galaxy feel lived in. Besides, that means I can shoot things, always a plus in the Elite universe. :)

    The two games share a lot in that once you eliminate the faction biases, the two games offer pretty much the same thing from world to world, regardless of the size. Elite does make some attempts at making some unique systems and establish faction areas, but that's just bunting.

    Then again, bunting may be an important part of a good space flying game thingy.

    1. I agree, at some point the size becomes irrelevant because there is no way to experience it all anyway. Because of that I see more of a point in trying to fill a smaller space with more content than the opposite, quality over quantity and all that. NMS ends up being more of a showcasing of what is possible than an enjoyable game in its own right, but there are some fairly fun elements in there. Like I said though, I really wish there would've been more player-to-player interactivity, that would've made a big difference I think.

  2. Y'know, I was super excited for this game at first. When I bought it, I played for a solid 5 hours and I didn't leave the initial planet because I literally couldn't find zinc for the life of me. It wasn't a good first impression. When I finally started my adventure, though, it got better, but the fun started to fade after a while, and I now find myself playing Overwatch more again. I'm not really sure if the game is my cup of tea. I might pick it back up just to get to the center of the universe. Great post!

    I’m actually the Community Content Manager for, and I would be thrilled if you considered cross posting your stuff to our platform. If you don’t know much about us- we’re the same team behind, and push to give awesome writers (like yourself) the exposure they deserve. Feel free to email me!

    1. Indeed, the lasting feeling seems to be that there isn't much to bring you back into the game. Nothing to motivate me to turn the console back on after having explored the first couple of planets. I don't feel quite done with the game just yet, but not far from.

      Thanks for your comment! I'll give it some thought, it sounds like a fun idea.